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Opinion: Why on earth do people call it “digital”?

Opinion: Why on earth do people call it “digital”?

A few thoughts from the new edition of Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, by Drayton  Bird.

“The way we define what we do determines what we do”.

I wrote this years ago, and felt very pleased with myself, until I found out that someone much wiser said it a great deal earlier - and probably better.

His name was Confucius.
But it is important to define things. In fact 25 years ago, many people were doing direct marketing, but nobody had defined it simply, so I had a go. Now people accuse me of being a “guru”.

But you know what? History repeats itself.

As far as I can see, nobody has clearly defined digital marketing. Even “digital” has many definitions –American Heritage Dictionary gives six; Wikipedia gives eight

It doesn’t matter, because once again marketers are in love with a fancy phrase that makes them feel what they do is complex and important.

Logically digital marketing should mean messages via a medium depending on digital transmission - like texting, which may become far more loathed than junk or spam, as it intrudes so intimately.

Equally, digital should include digital TV and radio, though I’ve never seen anyone say so. But I hope you will agree that only one thing matters.

Whatever fancy name you like, to succeed on-line or digitally you must practice accelerated direct marketing.

The best ever direct marketing medium?

The Internet, by far the most significant digital medium, is a near-perfect – maybe the best-ever - direct marketing medium.

Like the telephone it involves a two-way exchange between user and provider – of a service or a product - but with many other benefits

If you think about it, any easier, cheaper or quicker way to communicate always flourishes. This is precisely what digital is, whether we mean texting or the internet: easier, cheaper and quicker, hence its uniqueness.

But the internet is “more” unique if that were possible, than other digital media, which is why I shall focus on it here.

All other media depend upon you, the user, being, for whatever reason, where advertisers display their messages or can reach you. 

You read a newspaper – you see advertisements.  You watch television – you see commercials.  You walk down the street – you see posters. When you get your mail, you find direct advertisements. And sometimes, someone tries to sell you something on the phone – fixed or mobile..
Some messages will be timely and relevant – but very few. Most will be money down the drain for you.

Because unless it’s Saturday night, your pipes have frozen, the house is flooding and you go through the pile of door drops looking for a plumber’s leaflet you don’t necessarily want to be exposed to advertising messages.

You are a passive recipient. The advertiser has to work to reach you. And he often has to make costly, ill-informed assumptions on whether you are in the market, when you will respond, or what will persuade you to do so.

The uniqueness of the Internet

With the Internet things can be quite different. You can minimise risk and wastage by making decisions based not on what you assume but what you know.

Your prospects are doing something online – looking for something. They are telling you they are in the market; they are raising their hands. They are probably only there because they want to get something – and it could be your products, services or the information you offer.

What’s more you can talk to them at that very moment. You can get them to respond almost immediately. You can act, test, learn, improve - all in the space of a day, not a month or two.

It is hard to conceive of a more propitious situation.

But no matter what science makes possible, digital or otherwise, I predict one thing confidently: marketers will misunderstand and misuse it extensively and expensively. That’s because no technology will confer commonsense and imagination – both essential to understanding people and business.

In my next piece I will discuss more of the things that make the internet so powerful – but which so many appear to overlook.

Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, by Drayton  Bird is published by Kogan Page,, paperback, 446 pages, £24.95

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